FOOTBALL IQ, what’s that?

Being good at football is not as straightforward as you would think. It goes without saying that you need physical ability and coordination, but beyond that, you must be decisive too. In football, that means having the ability to make good decisions in a split second: to pass or not to pass, to tackle or to intercept, to shoot or assist? In other words, you need a high football IQ.

The Swedish Psychologist, Torbjorg Vestberg, looked into the cognitive skills – specifically the executive function - of Spanish footballers, Xavi and Iniesta, to test their giftedness beyond athleticism. Executive Function, in the context of football, is a person’s ability to plan and carry out an action, having considered the consequences; what Vestberg found was that both players had outstanding executive function (working memory for example) compared to normal people.

Some players are naturally gifted at reading the game and that’s a valuable attribute to have because it's hard – but not impossible - to teach and it can make all the difference in a fast-paced, close game. It’s about considering all the variables in a split second, to outsmart the opponents.

As a child, the former England and Man U player, Teddy Sheringham, was told that he didn’t have enough pace to succeed in football at the highest level. “People had doubted me through my career, even saying I wasn’t quick enough for Millwall’s youth team”. But the striker, who scored 11 goals for England, goes on to say, “I’d been given something in life: football intelligence.”

Do you have a high Football IQ?

On average, an elite player could take 150-250 actions in a 90-minute game, according to a study in the Journal of Sports Sciences. To make a quick decision at each turn, on top of game-reading, a footballer needs to process a great deal of information very fast, until it becomes second nature and much of it is intuitive.

But as football is a very fluid game, the players must use visual input constantly, always scanning, observing, processing and deciding. In a test of memory, analysis and imagination on Xavi, he was outstanding too. He showed exceptional levels of awareness and perception. Another of his attributes was his ability to regulate his emotions. Meanwhile, Iniesta scored in the top 0.1% in a test of design fluency (which means he has exceptional problem-solving skills).

"To make a lot of decisions and to be creative and find solutions: these are all things that top footballers can do,” Vestberg concludes. Is football IQ something that can be researched and further developed? Equally, could football coaches use cognitive tests before writing a child off because of size or physicality? It seems plausible.

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